No, as with their older, if not exactly more grown up counterparts, acting children always have some surprises and like the name implies, unexpected ones. I’m just saying, “farewell,” to a big group of children. One set was a double cast group of three girls and two boys playing named, speaking parts in the show. The other was a group of more than a dozen who did some specialty bits at the top of the show and danced as toy soldiers in the big ballet. The former had their pluses and minuses but were generally well-behaved children on and off the stage. The latter by the time we were almost done with the show had become a pack.
With the thought that the last shall be first stuck in my head I will deal with the pack. It was a very odd metamorphosis that happened with them. Initially they were a group who seemed genuinely thrilled to be part of the larger professional production. They seemed to have their acts together individually and collectively but that began to shift. Was it the repetition? Perhaps… But they began to really test and press the limits on their activities when waiting for the show to start and between their times on stage. They were a pack that deployed scouting parties much to the annoyance of the young adults who had to act as wranglers. I know the children knew how much they were annoying these kids.
As individuals they weren’t a bad lot and as I am in the habit of presetting this old man in an offstage seat before the show starts I got into conversation with a few of them. In the darkness of the wings and without my glasses on I have no idea which one of them they were but I’m fairly certain they were the same few. Even in street wear a chap looking like Santa will get most children talking and with some honesty. I’m not going to divulge any, well not many confidences here but not quite halfway into the run one of them, I think the little one who always talked with me and lucky for me could spot if my mic element had lost its tape asked if she could tell me what she wanted for Christmas. Wow. I knew Playing the Icon carried a lot of responsibility but I hadn’t bargained on that.
As the pack they got into places where they shouldn’t have been and there was a high degree of absenteeism among them as well. Also frequently absent were correct shoes, gloves and costume pieces as well as a memory that our matinees on Saturdays and Sundays both always start at 2 o’clock. I don’t know if it was an individual or two or a group effort but they did bring in homemade sugar cookies for the other children in the show and for us grown ups. Having seen them up close and observed a lack of hygienic behavior I discreetly slipped mine into an empty Dunkin Donuts bag and tossed it. It’s been decades since I suffered from food poisoning and wasn’t ready to risk a rerun. Puns ever intended…
For the little dears with lines and names they were always a surprise and better than they weren’t. One in particular will have a great future on the stage because she really acts like anyone her age in that situation would. In the ballet a large cake is brought onstage and placed by the big chair where Santa sits and the children are gathered. Not a real cake but a beautiful prop cake. She looked at it longingly every time it came to rest next to her then one night she did it: she ran her finger where the painted cake would have had its frosting and licked it with a smile. Genius!
One of the lads got the nickname of our assistant director because he made lots of comments that were de facto notes. Early on in our first tech rehearsals, he told the leading lady that her shoes didn’t go with her costume. I can still see how surprised she was from his uncalled for and out of place remark. I was therefore happy when he was standing a bit later in the same green room in his costume but wearing his own sneakers. Like the leading lady’s footwear, his hadn’t come in yet. I brought this matter up to him then it hit him, “Point taken,” said the youngster. Please understand I wasn’t giving a colleague a note. I was being a grown up.
In dealing with double casts I found I really needed to be on my toes, albeit figuratively, because the dueling children never reacted exactly the same way or on remotely the same beats at the same time; funny that, really, but the case. One of my young leading ladies earned the title from me of Little Miss Button because she really got how to cap the end of our duet. My hand open, palm up, she placed hers in palm down and our hands close. Being the larger and stronger of our pair I raised our hands at the end of the song so they could land on the last note and make our button. All on her own she found if she smiled then too she got a bigger hand. I see great things ahead for Little Miss Button because she already knows to put the audience into the equation. She wrote me a note in a card for her last performance thanking me and said that she learned a lot from me. Actually she wrote, “You have tot me so much.” I had all I could do to keep from weeping aloud.
Another of our little herd of show-children, we had a nice bit in the Toyland scene, even made the traditional toast for the closing party. About half way through rehearsals our director, a very patient and sweet gentleman, had some notes for her about our scene. She listened very carefully and nodded her head at the right times and stood there with an intent, serious look on her little face. When he was done, she broke into a smile and said, “Thanks for the tips!” and skipped out of the room leaving our dumb struck director with a need for a slow curtain if not a blackout.
Oh right, the Christmas wish list? Well, she asked for some sort of Lego toy I’ve no idea what it could be. I work with children, I know several now growing like weeds that are de facto family but I don’t keep up with their day-to-day needs, wants or culture. Then she asked another wish: “A best friend.” OK, readers who know me suspect I regretted not making a pocket hanky a choice as a personal prop for my character when I heard that. The overture had begun, as good underscoring ever does at these moments, so I had started to get up from my seat when it hit me. “The best way to get a best friend is to be one,” and I started to make my way to my place in two to await my entrance cue. She gave me a hug. I had a grand show that day thanks to albeit a temporary one new best friend.